Healthcare News & Insights

Mandatory flu shot policies: Good idea or legal minefield?

137829286Flu season is just around the corner, and preventing outbreaks in the healthcare setting is of utmost importance to hospitals. Some have even gone as far as creating policies to make flu shots mandatory for all employees, even healthcare execs.

But is this the best bet for flu prevention – or legal trouble waiting to happen?

Many hospitals throughout the country have mandatory vaccine policies in place for healthcare staff. Recently, New York state made the news with its own policy, as detailed in an article in the Albany Times Union. The New York Health Department is requiring people who work at hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare environments to receive flu shots by the time flu season’s in full swing, or else they’ll be required to wear surgical masks when in close proximity to patients.

One healthcare system in Florida has taken an even more forceful approach, according to an article in Florida Today. Employees of Health First in Brevard County, FL, who don’t receive a flu shot and haven’t submitted valid proof of a medical or religious exemption won’t be put on the work schedule after Dec. 15.

Policies like this go a long way in improving vaccination rates among healthcare employees. Recent info from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that only about 64% of all healthcare staffers are vaccinated against the flu.

Currently, over 400 hospitals in the U.S. have a policy requiring employees to be vaccinated against the flu, according to a survey conducted by the CDC. And in 2011, 29 of them terminated staff for refusing to get a flu shot, as reported in NBCNews.

In one highly publicized case last winter, detailed in an article from UPI, six employees were fired from Goshen Hospital in Goshen, IN, after refusing to receive flu shots. Two other employees voluntarily resigned from their positions.

Although such policies aren’t officially supported by the CDC, they’ve been touted as the best way to keep hospital patients who are already in poor health from becoming more ill, and several hospitals have reported positive results since implementing them.

And most employees do decide to get the flu shot, with few objections or issues. In fact, after Loyola University Health System in Chicago instituted a mandatory vaccination policy four years ago, the health system experienced a 99% compliance rate, with few employees deciding to object to the policy or quit their jobs, reported ScienceDaily.

Legal hurdles to requiring vaccinations

Not everyone’s enamored with such policies, though, and that’s where the problems come in.

This summer, a bill was introduced in one state to ban employers from requiring flu vaccines – hospitals included. According to an article on Yahoo! News, Wisconsin Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R) created the law after healthcare workers in his district complained of being fired after refusing to be vaccinated.

The new rules would allow employers to encourage, but not mandate, flu shots. Employers would be responsible for providing adequate, objective info about the benefits and risks, and they’d have to give workers enough time to consider it. Those who refuse, for whatever reason, couldn’t be penalized in any way.

Legal challenges to these policies have also come from the hands of employees themselves, as shown with one case detailed in The State, a South Carolina-based newspaper.

Last spring, a healthcare worker in South Carolina brought a lawsuit against her former employer, AnMed Health, after being fired for refusing to get a flu shot.

After witnessing her daughter’s severe reaction to the flu vaccine, which doctors told her may be caused by genetics, Pamela Crowe refused to get one herself. AnMed had a medical exemption for the vaccine in place, but Crowe didn’t meet the guidelines, so she was terminated and lost all access to unemployment benefits.

So Crowe took her case to the legal system. While initially, a state claims adjuster agreed that she was fired for cause, upon appeal, the court sided with Crowe. A higher court affirmed the decision, saying that declining a flu shot was “reasonable under her circumstances.”

Mitigating the risks

So, is protecting the health of patients (and other staffers) worth the risk of upsetting those who feel pressured into being vaccinated – and potentially being dragged into court?

Hospitals throughout the country seem to think so, and despite the difficulties such policies may present, the benefits may outweigh the drawbacks for your hospital.

If implementing a mandatory flu vaccination policy, hospitals can protect themselves by allowing for certain exceptions. Besides the standard exemptions for medical or religious reasons, it’s important to take all objections on a case-by-case basis, considering the employee’s real reason for objection and working with the person to come up with a viable solution before terminating them altogether.

Other alternatives may be available for those who don’t wish to get the flu shot, such as New York’s mandate requiring unvaccinated employees to wear masks during flu season.

Another tip to avoid objections: Make it convenient for employees to get their flu shots by offering them on-site during work hours through a flu shot clinic. This could be essential in getting some employees to comply who may object because of time constraints.

Does your hospital have a policy in place for flu vaccinations for employees? Do you think similar rules are a good idea? Sound off in the comments section below.

Subscribe Today

Get the latest and greatest healthcare news and insights delivered to your inbox.


  1. florida healthcare worker says:

    I work for the company mentioned above, and am ready to leave the place because i feel so strongly against the shot. MANY associates feel the same – just ask health first to see their ask health first forum ! TONS of people providing their info on why it is NOT OK.

  2. Amy Holden Jones says:

    Flu shots save lives. Reactions are rare. Health care workers are likely carriers for spreading the flu. Get the shot. It’s a big nothing. A pin prick. No big deal.

  3. Ryder Collins says:

    There is absolutely no scientific proof that the flu shot saves lives; Hospitals are putting the full court press on their employees because of a provision on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that links Medicare reimbursement to a 90% flu vaccination rate in the hospital (talk about a corrupt arrangement from the sleazy pharmaceutical companies!). Do your research before you get toxic chemicals, heavy metals, foreign DNA, aspartame, animal fetal cells and other sketchy things injected into your body for no good reason. I can tell you that there are hundreds of ILV’s (Influenza-like viruses) out there. The yearly flu shot is formulated based on the 2 most common strains last year in Asia and Australia! The flu virus mutates far too rapidly for there to be an effective vaccine for it, and a healthy immune system and other basic infection control measures are far more effective than an immune-disrupting hodgepodge of chemicals. Don’t believe the propaganda!